Fargo, North Dakota. Bill Macy, wood chippers, snow, and most oddly a failed Vice Presidential candidate and Gubernatorial Quitter of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

I’m from California, the bounty of where I live makes me a little spoiled, and if I’m being honest, while I try not to be a snob, I didn’t expect much in the culinary department on my recent visit to Fargo.  I also expected people to sound like the characters of the Coen brothers’ film Fargo.

First, the citizens of Fargo sound pretty much like you and me; and while they may have a little accent, they sound a lot more like us than they do Sarah Palin or Marge Gunderson. The second thing I have to share is how good the food is in Fargo.

I had my first meal at a Buffalo Wild Wings near the airport, and ate 32 wings in the Asian Zing sauce, washed down with a Newcastle Brown Ale. I could have had this meal in many cities, but there isn’t a BW3 (the chain was originally known as Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck) location near where I live so I eat it when I can.

Next, I ate at Monte’s Downtown, where I started with a delicious wild mushroom soup with a large blue cheese crouton disk, moved on to a wonderful spinach salad with garlic shrimp, goat cheese, pine nuts, topped with a warm sherry vinaigrette. Although I didn’t tweet, it was Oregon Pinot TweetUp day, so I enjoyed a Sokol Blosser Meditrina, of Dundee Hills in the Oregon’s Willamette Valley; Meditrina is a simple approachable food friendly blend of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah, and paired nicely with my meal. I had been dreaming of Cedar Plank Copper River Salmon for quite some time, and when it was mentioned as a special, I leaped – too soon. The salmon was finished with an insipid, flavor ruining brown sugar glaze.  The palate destroying sweetness for this entrée extended to the side, a pineapple raisin rice. Only the grilled asparagus from that plate was good.  The kitchen produced exactly what they promised, and it is my fault they ruined the main ingredients. I should have asked for a miso glaze, a pinot glaze, a butter, lemon and dill treatment, or a tzaziki…anything but the horrid brown sugar glaze. Again, this one was on me for not listening critically with my imagination turned on.

HoDo, or the Hotel Donaldson, restaurant, offered the most farm to table fare, plus a few special treats from a bit farther away. I started with a smooth, rich, lobster bisque, then moved on to a very tasty organic garden salad of fresh mixed greens, local tomatoes, cucumbers, shaved red onions, carrots and an aged balsamic vinaigrette. The meal’s wine was from Sonoma County, a Sangiovese from Jacuzzi Family Vineyards that was lush and delicious. After an appetizer of Calamari, lightly dusted in a cornmeal crust, flash deep fried, served with an orange sunburst ginger cocktail sauce, I moved onto the main course, a Wagyu NY strip steak, with horseradish whipped potatoes, wild mushrooms, and a truffle demi. I expected the Wagyu, America’s Kobe beef, to be more tender, and although my steak was not tender at all, it was flavorful.

Italian food was up next at Stella’s Ristorante. I enjoyed sausage and peppers, minestrone, eggplant parmesan, and veal saltimbocca – thin slices of veal sautéed in a Marsala wine butter cream sauce with porcini mushrooms, garlic, onion, and topped with prosciutto and provolone – all with a Montepulciano recommended by the owner. Everything was delicious, and most importantly, credibly Italian.

Before heading home, I ate at Wasabi, a new sushi restaurant in the back of the adjoining restaurant, Drunken Noodle. I had three pair of Nigiri sushi, Hotategai (scallop), Hamachi (yellowtail), and Tai (red snapper), and two rolls, a salmon roll, and a Broken Heart Roll (spicy tuna, cream cheese, and jalapeno – then tempura fried).  Having asked after the collar, but coming up with no grillable Hamaci Kama, our chef offered us a surprise dish, sashimi of the Kama’s cheek portion – what a revelation, so absolutely delicious. I had iced tea with my meal.

Every waiter was first rate, every restaurant had great dishes on their menu, wine lists were deep enough. I met a number of owners, and a couple of chefs, all proud of what they were doing.

I was told many times about the vineyards, grapes, and wines of North Dakota; everyone was very warm in commending the local wine experience to me. I missed trying a North Dakota wine, but will keep it in mind for any possible returns to the state.

Fargo, North Dakota. Great food, great people, great time.